There’s nothing about modern communications and social media that prevents us from thinking deeper and re-imagining from a deeper reality. However there are many of aspects of modern communications which strongly discourage and distract us from digging beneath the surface to explore deeper truths.
Modern communication prioritizes the external over the internal. One of the most pervasive challenges of instant and always-on communications is that it encourages us to be always communicating with others instead of with ourselves. In earlier times most communication – face-to-face, in writing, over the phone or otherwise – was periodic, allowing people more time to themselves. But modern communication leaves us always “on”; we can be reached almost anywhere, at any time, even in our most private places and times. Continually interrupted with other people’s thoughts, opinions and desire for our attention, it becomes difficult for us to reflect deeply on anything.
Social media encourages us to respond rather than create. Social media encourages us to be “social” by reacting and responding to others instead of generating our own thoughts and ideas. We’re encouraged to “like” other people and opinions and share other people’s thoughts. Where the focus is on “social”, the focus is on others, and not on ourselves and our own exploration and creation.
Superficial friends, superficial opinions. Social media encourages superficial treatment of subjects; even some of our most powerful language like the word “friend” have been superimposed with an almost worthless meaning. Many people have thousands of social media “friends”; but how can someone we almost never see or talk with – or we may never have even met at all – be considered a friend? And these so-called friends encourage us to form and express superficial opinions; with a single click we can “like” someone or something without really thinking or caring about it at all.
Modern communications encourage the fast over the deep or true. Modern technology encourages short, quick responses instead of deep and well-considered thoughts. We’re so bombarded by information that we don’t take time to understand what we receive or think before we respond. We’re rewarded for short, catchy phrases with simple words and “sharable” pictures and videos. Virality is valued over verity.
But there’s two sides to every coin. In fact some aspects of modern communications can actually force us to think more deeply, if we let them. For example, if we try expressing anything of real substance in a 140 character “tweet”, we automatically find ourselves choosing more economical words, using words with more nuance, cutting out unnecessary details, and reorganizing our thoughts to get at the heart of the matter; the limitations can help promote our creativity and deeper thought if we let them. So technology can hinder us; but only when we let the medium define us instead of using it to our advantage.
So it’s our choice. We can’t choose the world we live in; we can’t go back fifty years to a simpler time. And the momentum of the moment can easily overwhelm us. But whether it does or not is up to us. Here are some things we can do to help nurture both our imagination and thoughtfulness in the midst of constant distractions.
Be a generator, not a receiver. There’s more thoughts, ideas and opinions available to us than we’ll ever be able to process. But instead of jumping in immediately and reacting to everyone else, we can choose to take a moment, shut out the noise, and form our own views first. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be open to other views; but by finding our own voice first, we can make sure we’re really expressing our own views, not just repeating the other people without realizing it.
Seek out opposing views. It’s easy to find someone who agrees with us on any subject – the Internet is the perfect echo boxes to whip up our sense of righteousness and outrage. But if we want to seek a deeper reality – or even a real human connection – we need to open our eyes and ears to the other side. So we need to be disciplined and seek alternate views. We don’t need to agree with them, but surely if our views are really correct it won’t hurt to listen to the other side. At the very least we might learn better how to share our views with those who disagree; and if we’re really lucky they might help us peel back a deeper layer and change our own minds.
Don’t give – or expect – instant results. We need to give ourselves the chance to reflect before we respond. To do that we may adjust the expectations of those we communicate with not to expect an immediate response. Sure, some people may think we’re out of touch or even rude; but isn’t it better to say what we really think later instead of saying something we don’t really believe instantly? Similarly, we need to let others know it’s OK for them to take their time to respond, giving them time to really think.
Use our own words. There’s nothing wrong with “liking” people or ideas – unless it short-circuits us from really interacting like human beings. To really express our appreciation, people need more from us than just a green thumbs up or red thumbs down and a number to validate their social approval status. If we really want to express our agreement or disagreement we should add our voices to a real, two-way discussion, with well-thought out views.
It takes an active, conscious choice. Although the tide of modern technology is powerful, pulling us to be short, quick, “social” and superficial, ultimately all it can ever do is pull us; we still have a choice whether to follow it or to stake out or own ground. It will take conscious and continual effort, but we can and should choose to think deeply and re-imagine greatly. And everything we choose for ourselves, we can encourage others to do the same.